In many communities, the neighborhood barbershop is the place to share stories, news and even gossip. It’s a place where people come together and bond over important things in their lives. It’s also a beacon of entrepreneurship in every kind of community – from high-end salons in wealthy neighborhoods to modest storefronts in inner cities and all points in between.
As a trainer for Grassroots Leadership Academy, I am rarely home long enough to schedule a haircut in Arlington, Virginia. As I travel the country, I have opportunities to take a seat in the barber’s chair and listen to local stories and gossip and learn more about the passionate entrepreneurs who work countless hours to achieve their own American Dream.
Two stories in particular stand out to me as great examples of the American Dream coming true.
Michael: Pursuing His Passion in Phoenix
On a training trip in late 2015 through Arizona, I realized my hair was getting entirely too long for my audience (mostly retired military members and their friends). I searched for a place to get a quick cut (fade on 2, short on top) and discovered Michael’s Barbershop in Phoenix’s Encanto neighborhood.
Michael’s place is little more than a back room tucked away inside a mostly empty commercial property in a modest, two-story strip mall. Michael’s room included a few chairs, some magazines, a television, a chair, and his barber setup.
I waited for nearly an hour as Michael tended to the customer before me. They spoke throughout nearly the entire haircut, but I didn’t listen. When Michael finished his work, the customer paid and left and Michael motioned to me.
As I sat down, I took note of the novelty license plate Michael hangs proudly above the mirror.
“Do you know what that is?” Michael asked me as I sat down in his chair and he began to meticulously shave away my developing shag.
“The Cuban flag,” I responded.
Michael smiled as he began telling me about his journey from Cuba, where he was also a barber, and how he made just $.50 a day under the Castro regime while dreaming of the kind of freedom we enjoy here in the United States.
“It’s not about the money,” Michael told me. “It’s about the freedom here in the U.S. I knew there was something more.”
Michael detailed his experience leaving Cuba, coming through Florida, and eventually settling in Phoenix, where he opened his own barbershop. He repeatedly spoke about his American Dream of owning his own shop and pursuing his passion.
As Michael spoke, he worked delicately, going back over places he had previously trimmed in an effort to perfect this haircut. I could see that he truly loved his work and took pride in each session. By the end, I understood and appreciated why it took Michael nearly an hour to cut his customers’ hair.
I have been back to Michael’s barbershop once, and I will certainly go back when my travels take me to Phoenix again.
Abdul: Hosting Regulars – and Politicians and Pundits – in Manchester
On my most recent swing through Manchester, New Hampshire, I realized I needed another haircut. With six weeks to go before I was back in Phoenix for work (and to stop by Michael’s), I knew it couldn’t wait.
It was in Manchester that I discovered Abdul, a Kurd who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990. He eventually settled in Manchester and opened a barbershop.
As I waited my turn I listened as Abdul talked to the customers ahead of me. I got the sense they were regulars. In fact, I think most of Abdul’s customers are regulars. On more than one occasion, he’d pick up the ringing cell phone (he gives customers his cell phone number) and schedule another haircut with another regular.
When it was my turn in the chair, I submitted my request (fade on 2, short on top), and Abdul immediately realized I had never been there before. I wasn’t a regular.
Abdul was humble but eager to tell his story – how he fled Iraq and worked abroad before moving to the United States. He was honored to host politicians and pundits, who every four years make the trek to New Hampshire and try to make a name for themselves, in his chair.
Abdul showed me photos and newspaper clippings about his life and about his passion for the barbershop. I told Abdul about my travels. I shared Michael’s story and we discussed the importance of barbershops in our communities.
Both Michael and Abdul have something in common – a strong passion to achieve their own American Dream. In their pursuit of that passion, they’re creating a sense of community in their own neighborhoods. They’re providing a service and creating greater well-being for those around them.
It’s from stories like these that I derive my own passion for fighting for a society of mutual benefit.